8 Stories of “Vanishing” Muslim Women (Slideshow)

While Muslim women aren’t simply vanishing into thin air as this graphic suggests, it seems that their rights are — if, that is, they even had any in the first place. Whether we’re talking about honor killings in Pakistan, punishment for “moral crimes” in Afghanistan, exclusion from sports and driving in Saudi Arabia, or beheadings in New York, many Muslim women face severe restrictions and abuse that peg them as second-class citizens at best, practically non-humans at worst. Here are 8 stories of women — one for each panel of the graphic above — who’ve had their basic human rights violated for the sake of upholding religious traditions. Please share their experiences. Hopefully, the more people aware of these injustices, the more who will take steps to actually stop them from happening.

1. Shayla P.

From Human Rights Watch’s report “I Had to Run Away”

Shayla is a 25-year-old Afghani woman. Her husband informed her that he didn’t want a divorce, but was going to marry another woman. Shayla decided to run away from him, which is a punishable crime in Afghanistan on the grounds that it can lead to adultery and prostitution. Shayla was arrested and served one year in prison. She wants a divorce from her husband, but hesitates at the possibility of losing her son to her in-laws.

2. Gulnaz

Also from HRW’s “I Had to Run Away”

From the report:

Gulnaz, a young woman from Kabul, was raped in 2009 by the husband of a relative, and became pregnant. When the police learned of the case, they arrested both Gulnaz and the man who allegedly raped her. Either disbelieving or disregarding Gulnaz’s accusation of rape, prosecutors instead charged both Gulnaz and her attacker with [having sex outside of marriage]. Both were convicted. Gulnaz was sentenced to 12 years in prison…and gave birth to her daughter on the floor of Badam Bagh prison.

3. Souriya Y.

Also from HRW’s “I Had to Run Away”

Souriya Y. is also Afghani. When she was 12, her brother ran away with a girl.  As compensation, Souriya’s family forced her to marry a member of the girl’s family.  She bore her first child at age 13 and was abused at the hands of her husband.  He eventually accused her of zina — having sex outside of marriage — and of running away. She was consequently sentenced to over five years in prison, during which time she gave birth to a son who only survived for three weeks.  Her husband re-married two days after her arrest.

4. Zahra

From Care2′s Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

Zahra is a “bacha posh,” or an Afghani girl whose family encourages her to dress up as a boy. Why? Boys have a much greater worth to families both in terms of honor and potential income.  Here’s Zahra’s take:

People use bad words for girls…They scream at them on the streets. When I see that, I don’t want to be a girl. When I am a boy, they don’t speak to me like that.

5.  Aasiya Hassan

From Care2′s Ximena Ramirez

Aasiya Hassan was 37 and lived in a suburb of Buffalo, NY. From Ramirez’s article:

Aasiya Hassan…was no stranger to her husband’s violent streaks. After multiple episodes of domestic violence, she filed for divorce in early February to escape her husband…She had also obtained an order of protection that barred him from their home, but still she was not safe.

On February 12, 2009, Hassan, 44, brutally beheaded his wife and then went to the Orchard Park Police station to report her death.

6. Angkhana Neelapaijit

From TrustLaw

Angkhana Neelapaijit lives in southern Thailand, an area that is both 80% Muslim and racked by religious warfare. Her husband, a human rights lawyer, disappeared in 2004. Neelapaijit suspects members of the local government and police force were involved. Not only is she at a loss to explain where her husband is, but the officer suspected of abducting him was acquitted, and she was threatened for pursuing the case. She established Working Group on Justice for Peace in 2006 to help people like herself fight for some sort of retribution, but still faces many obstacles. Widows of men killed by insurgents have to forgo $10,000 worth of government aid and somehow support their families on their own. In Neelapaijit’s case, her husband hasn’t been declared dead, just disappeared.  She has to wait more than 90 years to be officially declared a widow and may not remarry in the meantime. As she says:

It’s not the religion that violates women–it’s when men interpret it in their own way for their benefit.

7. Shaima Jastaniah

From Care2′s Kristina Chew

Shaima Jastaniah is a Saudi woman who was sentenced to ten lashes in 2011 for driving. She lived in Houston, Texas for ten years, where she enjoyed driving on a regular basis. When she moved back to her native country, she was in for a very rude, unjust awakening. From Chew’s post:

Even with her international driver’s license, she is not allowed to drive the SUV there. Instead, she has to employ a male chauffeur, who is a stranger to her. As she is now gainfully employed, her parents leave it up to her to pay the driver’s salary. That renders her inability to steer the vehicle doubly galling, she says. In her view, the prohibition against female driving has nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with the maintenance of patriarchal rule.

8. Kainet Soomro

From Care2′s Mhaire Fraser

Kainet Soomro is a young Pakistani woman. When she was 13, she was abducted while shopping, held prisoner, and eventually raped by four different men. According to tribal tradition, she was designated a “black female” for having sex outside of marriage, and her family was then saddled with the responsibility of killing her to preserve their honor. They thankfully refused and instead pressed charges. Kainet’s attackers then took matters into their own hands (again) and killed her brother in her place.

Please leave your comments below.

Related Stories:

Saudi Arabia to Let Women Compete at Olympics

Saudi Princess: Women Have Bigger Problems Than Driving

Canadian Court Says No “Honor” in Killing Women

Photo Credit: Boushra Almutawakel


Amy L.
Amy L4 years ago

The genocide of females around the world continues and surpasses the Holocaust. It would be an act of God for men to cherish the necessary duality in nature and revere women instead of perverting their perceptions of women, girls and girl babies. It seems the problem is the men and their brutality of women. Maybe we need to get rid of men altogether.

Sandra Streifel
Sandra S4 years ago

Susan S: You're so concerned about why we're fighting in Afghanistan when "they" treat their women like they are from the stone age. Well, we bombed them back to the stone age, and it's the American Armed Forces that has the rape problem that is so widespread that no one even knows how bad it is because 25% of women being assaulted is nowhere near all the victims reporting, because everybody knows you probably have to report the assault to the rapist. Misogyny is not confined to Islam, it's just easier to blame it on those savages instead of admitting that none of us are doing enough to admit violence against girls and women occurs everywhere and it has to stop.

Sandra Streifel
Sandra S4 years ago

Kathy P., I agree with you. This has very little to do with the religion of Islam, however. As a Christian Canadian woman, I greatly value the right I have to the freedom of my religion, and I strongly champion the same right for those of other religions, or those of no religion.

I am a feminist, and my studies of patriarchy around the world have shown me through my life that it's not just in Muslim countries that women are treated like shit. In fact, just like Jesus, Muhammad treated the women in his life and work very differently and more like human beings than was usual in society for his time. It's not Islam that makes Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Buffalo, New York, Afghanistan, or Thailand horrible and dangerous places for women--it's because violence against women and valuing women and girls less than men and boys is endemic in our world and religions generally.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

holy shit. these poor women.

Sue T.
Susan T5 years ago

@ Linda E, your comments intrigue me. How do I do this? I believe what you typed...and I want to do something....reading these womens stories I cried and having watched the movie The Stoning of Sorraya M I see the lies these men get away with....

Sue T.
Susan T5 years ago

I am appalled by this. When are the women's organizations and the UN going to stand up and do something about this type of abuse?

this has been going on for so long and no one does anything about it...why? Is everyone that afraid of muslims? better not come to my town and act like that....totally unacceptable behavior...

Nancy B.
Nancy B5 years ago


Susan S.
Susan S5 years ago

I want to know WHY the USA is fighting a stinking war in a country that treats it women with such disdain and disrespect. They are treated worse than any animal has ever been and I don't understand why we are fighting to defend men to do what---behead their own wives over something as stupid as driving a car????
This "muslim religion" has NOTHING to do with worship or religion in any way ,shape or form. It is ALL about COMPLETE DOMINANCE over women.
WHY in the hell is our government encouraging this kind of behavior by fighting their stupid war for them?
If we are to continue to fight in that STONE AGE country we need to start killing EVERY MAN there , starting with the idiots they call government officials, until we kill enough of them for the women to take over and run the country. We would immediately see Peace in the country and have one of the strongest allies this country has ever known. We demand HUMAN RIGHTS from every other country we deal with why not these "so called muslim" countries? ANY HUMAN OR ANIMAL BEING TREATED THIS WAY IS A SIN IN ANY RELIGION ! This is the 21st century and is it way past time that the USA recognised this fact.

pam w.
pam w5 years ago

Linda, your sympathies and obviously careful thoughts are admirable and might even work, were these women not victimized by a stone-age religion interpreted by a stone-age culture.

Women who resist in Islam can be stoned, whipped or murdered in some very brutal ways. Have you not seen the videos of beheadings, public executions and other acts of "godly" men?

Men who treat women this way are conditioned to believe they have the "right" to do it, based on the Koran and common actions they observe from birth. A challenge to this kind of repression might result in horrible responses.

I fear for these women and wonder why the DEFENDERS OF ISLAM never, EVER express concern. They'd rather accuse me of being an "Islamophobe" or a "hater"...blah, blah, blah. We have no idea what we've lost as a species with the suppression of these women.

Linda E.
Linda E5 years ago

continued from Linda E. Civil war, here in US, took hold from rage, anger of one areas utter disregard for human beings. Prisoners of war are taught, when captured to : disrupt, disobey, harass, confuse, torment, rebel, annoy, your captor.Make it not worth it for them to hold you captive. Society should put EVERY KIND OF PRESSURE on these tormenting males. Eventually their pride for their image would make them stop abusing the women. Many studies have been done, and vanity and pride (which causes them to kill their sister, knowing she's innocent-to just not be embarassed) is SERIOUS PRESSURE> Now, REVERSE IT! SHAME these men for RAPE. Harass them, never let it be forgotten, publicly shame them. THen for beating a helpless female. If you have to be anonymous, POST what they did and your DISGUST, mock them. BELEIVE ME -society can change things quickly with enough pressure! Pressure turns a lump of coal into a diamond. A blade of grass Does crack concrete from the pressure in its roots pushing up. PEOPLE we CAN STOP THIS. Help these women in any way, and hinder these men, make them wish they never violated a human being. Set an example, then another and another. REVERSE THE SHAME onto them, not the women.